Waking Up the Spine

Waking Up the Spine


Whether or not you live with back pain, chances are that there are times your back is speaking to you.

Our bodies move us through our days. We often analyze our bodies, mostly noticing when some part of us is hurting or not working the way we want. Rarely do we offer our bodies a chance to be felt or seen, without judgment.

We can create space for a dialogue with our bodies by developing what Ellen Saltonstall calls “embodied self-awareness.” This kind of awareness exists for each of us on a scale. We can recognize when we are hungry or thirsty, tired or in pain. The embodied self-awareness that Saltonstall refers to is really about sensing what your body is experiencing, without any kind of analysis. It is simply a matter of what is, right now, in the present moment. At its best, it allows us to recognize when something is off—emotionally or physically—and adjust before it escalates.

Saltonstall, the author of The Bodymind Ballwork Method offers a full-body exploration in how to use a variety of sizes and densities of balls to access different parts of your body and begin to come into a clearer understanding of what our bodies are holding. Her process involves moving slowly and with a deep sense of intuition, accessing your breath, and being curious about exploring without judgment.

Whether or not you live with back pain, chances are that there are times your back is speaking to you. As a central storehouse for our movement and our nervous system, accessing your back, and inviting awareness there can be a powerful practice. Saltonstall suggests the following postures to “enliven” your back and create more ease of movement in your spine. She cautions that these are not to be done if you have a recently herniated disc or are recovering from spinal surgery.

  • The Spine with Three Balls. Saltonstall suggests trying this “for a quick recharge when you’re under stress, or you’ve been sitting for a long time.” Position three hollow balls as a triangle under your upper ribs, one ball on your spine, and the other two just below, on either side of the spine. Lay back on the three balls, either with your knees bent or your legs stretched out. Relax into the balls in the starting position and allow your breath to settle. When you are ready, slowly begin to move your spine and ribs to one side. Keep the movement very small as you explore the sensations. Since the balls will be near your diaphragm, notice how your breath may change. Spend 10-15 minutes breathing deeply and moving gently in this position.
  • The Spine with Two Balls Vertically. For anyone who spends time rounding forward, this positioning allows for a gentle extension of the spine. Begin with softer balls if you feel especially tight there, and move slowly to using firmer ones. Start with the balls arranged vertically on your spine, between your shoulder blades. You may want support for your neck to relieve some of the pressure there. Relax into the balls, and then, again very slowly, shift your weight to one side and then the other. When you are ready, you can shift the balls down your spine a few inches. Again, spend 10-15 minutes in this position, and be sure the balls are soft enough that they do not cause pain.

Saltonstall suggests using these methods to create more awareness and space in your spine. Her clients find it helpful in improving posture and counteracting so much of the leaning forward that many of us do on a daily basis.

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